In the years 2010-12, I engaged in lengthy researches into the Eleusinian Mysteries, seeking to penetrate the veil that had descended over those secret rites with a conviction that what had been anciently concealed would have great value for modern humanity. In brief, I found that the experience of the celebrants at Eleusis involved a radical transformation of perception through the inherence of shapeshifting deities, the consumption of a visionary sacrament and a world-healing ritual of such efficacy that the rites culminated in a visio beatifica granted by the visit of Persephone in her guise as Thea, Everliving Goddess as Visionary Event. From this research was liberated a series of artworks entitled 'Eleusis' and an accompanying book of art and essays which is currently out of print. Since that time, my thoughts on Eleusis have developed further, and this essay draws parallels and contrasts with other mythical images in which the male acts as magical helper in female-oriented mythforms.
In the Mexico Room of the British Museum, London, are three lintels (two originals, one archival cast) from the Classic Maya city of Yaxchilan in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. These exceptionally-crafted public artworks depict a fascinating ritual to evoke a Divine Ancestor, thus broadcasting both a sense of royal propaganda and of sacred intimacy, but it is the image of visionary beholding vision which is particularly interesting, disclosing an archaic expression to the scene.
The Classic Maya city of Yaxchilan is one of several archaeological sites located in close proximity to the Usumacinta River along the border between Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas. It sits just on the Mexican side in a meander of the river, likely a vital spot since the river passed through the city and allowed the rulers to control – and perhaps impose duties upon – the trade and river traffic moving from the mountains towards lowland cities such as Palenque.
Anciently known as Pa' Chan ('Broken Sky') or Siyaj Chan ('Born from the Sky'), Yaxchilan's documented history begins around the mid 4th century AD but the city flourished in the Late Classic period (6th-9th centuries AD), dominating nearby Bonampak and the Usumacinta corridor, as well as establishing rivalries with both Piedras Negras and Palenque downstream.
On the far eastern coast of Crete, there lies in a remote bay the Minoan town of Zakros, a major Bronze Age urban centre. First discovered in 1902, the palace wasn't uncovered until the 1960s, and the artefacts from Zakros palace are some of the most celebrated works of art to emerge from the Minoan Civilisation. But during the original excavations at House A in the north of the town, a large number of clay sealings were unearthed, many of which bore the consistent hand of a single artist, a truly gifted seal-engraver with a profound and unique vision: the Zakro Master.
The Minoan civilisation is replete with sealstones. From the earliest Pre-Palatial periods in which the village chiefs marked their trade goods using simply-incised gems, to the late Proto- and Neopalatial periods in which complex iconographies were common for ruling families of the urban centres, Bronze Age Cretans made use of a range of religious and naturalistic imageries as part of their public identities. Seal-engravers drew upon a visual koine for their creations, a communal repository of mythological, naturalistic, religious and visionary forms that extended across most parts of the island.